I am not usually of the opinion that nature is always the gardener’s best friend. Though I would never say that gardening is all about battling with nature it is certainly a relationship that requires us to persuade nature to do what we want most of the time. Even the most natural-looking scenes are usually manipulated to some extent. So I would not often say that a concrete container of weeds would or could challenge a carefully planted one: but we all get surprises now and then.
So I was startled to see this display yesterday! A concrete tub that was probably filled with bedding plants last summer, which then died in winter, was brimming with colourful weeds. I can only assume that the tub was filled with garden soil or seed-filled topsoil and two weeds found the conditions just to their liking.
The two weeds are both annuals with pink or purple flowers and I have to say that both are weeds that I do not mind finding in the garden because they are pretty enough to deserve a place in the flower border. I can’t help feeling that, with a little bit of attention from plant breeders and they could become popular garden plants. But as it is both are weeds of cultivated plots. Like most annuals they cannot compete with ruffty tuffty perennials like grass and they are most commonly seen in the veg plot where all that bare soil is just what they need. They are both weeds of light, free-draining soils too.
The lower of the two is Lamium purpureum or red dead nettle (Caochneantóg dhearg in Irish). It is a soil-hugging plant with pairs of leaves on its square stems. The flowers are pale purple, delicately spotted, and they are especially valuable to bumblebees because the bloom so early in spring. What I really like about this plant is the way the upper leaves on the stems are flushed with purple too, making a lovely contrast to the flowers. It does not flower all summer though if seeds germinate in spring those plants will flower later. These plants are from seeds that germinated in autumn and overwintered as small plants. I am not sure I need a variety of this with variegated leaves or even with flowers of a different colour but show me a plant with bigger leaves and flowers or with yellow leaves, which would show off that colour on the upper leaves, and I would buy it on sight!
The other plant is Fumaria muralis or common fumitory (Camán searraigh balla in Irish). This annual is in the poppy family (or fumitory family if you are a splitter) and like the related dicentras and lamprocapnos, has brittle, translucent, glassy stems. Plants start as rosettes of ferny foliage and then send up twining or clambering stems with many clusters of tubular, pink flowers. In the veg plot it scrambles through your crops and because of its feathery foliage it will not damage most plants. I would not let it swamp my onions but if it pops up among cabbages I usually let it have its day.
Both plant are native to both the UK and Ireland